William Whitcombe Interview

Q: You’re the Chaplain and  Interfaith Advisor at High Holborn, London College of Communication, and London College of Fashion, could you tell us more about your role and what you do? 

My primary role is to provide pastoral and spiritual care to the students, staff and families of UAL. Although I identify as a Christian and priest in the Church of England, I don’t expect those who I meet and support to have signed on the dotted line when it comes to a belief system: I am here to support the religious, the atheist and the unaligned. The point is my tradition and training has given me 15 years experience of being there for people in very religiously and ethnically diverse communities. 

UAL Chaplaincy also organises events in relation to the exploration of the relationship between faith and the arts.  

Q: From your experience, what role does religion play in higher education and how does it affect students who are religious or may be an atheist?  

Students, whether religious or atheist, are preparing to live, travel and work in a highly complex and multi-faith world. Religion is another piece of the jigsaw puzzle of the human experience. It isn’t something that’s going to go away. With this in mind, perhaps the question is what role does higher education have to play in helping students to meet, hear and better understand their global neighbours?

Q: How can art education support students whose identity is shaped by their religion?  

 By understanding that religion is an important identity strand for many. By showing interest and a willingness to engage with the stories that students of faith want to share in their creative practise. Keep asking questions and keep listening: keep the dialogue open. 

Q: How important is the role of religion in today’s current socio-political climate? 

Religion plays an important role in identity formation. As long as religion plays a role in the identities of peoples, it goes without saying that it will be important in any socio-political climate.  

Q: How would you define religious extremism? 

It begins with the view that I am the one who is right, and that I have a complete monopoly on the truth. And it often ends in whatever means are felt necessary to assert that view.  

Q: Is there a distinct difference between religion, faith, spirituality & belief? 

This is a whole dissertation, but to try and answer this briefly, I find a picture is helpful. The picture is of a desert, with a road winding through it into the distance. That road is the journey of faith and belief. Sometimes there will be beauty, sometimes the way ahead will be very clear. Often there will be feelings of thirst, hunger and discomfort. Other times, a sense of plenty and refreshment. There’s a bus on that road. It’s not perfect, but it’s trying to carry people along the road of faith and belief, and often the people it carries will be arguing and disagreeing – that bus is religion. Sometimes the bus will be a great support. Other times it will go wrong and break down and get into trouble. That’s because it’s operated by fallible, human beings. There are also people in this picture. People who have a side to them that yearns, wonders, dreams, creates, loves. They have moments on that road in the desert when their vision is somehow extended, and they see so much more in and around them, than they did just a few moments before. This is the spiritual side that I believe exists in all of us. Some of the people in this picture will be travelling on the bus. Others will be way ahead of it. Others will hop on, hop off. Others will prefer to make their own way.  

Q: Lastly, do you think religion, faith, spirituality increase or decrease creativity?

 Having studied History of Art, I would say fairly confidently that it has the potential to increase creativity.